One of the few schools left in the NCAA that has never made the Big Dance just got great news surrounding a guy that could perhaps push the Northwestern Wildcats basketball team to their first NCAA Tournament in school history. 7-foot-2 inch center Chier Ajou was cleared by the NCAA to play for the Wildcats and will be eligible this season.
Ajou spent the past year playing at St. Thomas Moore in Connecticut, and will now head to Evanston to see what he can do on the court to help out the Wildcats for the upcoming year.
Ajou committed to Northwestern back in June, but there were problems surrounding his transcript and it was unclear at times whether the South Sudan native would be allowed to play collegiate basketball at all. Fortunately for the Wildcats the entire situation has been resolved and Ajou, cousin of NBA player Luol Deng will be a great asset for the Wildcats.
The biggest problem that Northwestern faces this upcoming year is replacing “do-everything” guard John Shurna. While Ajou will likely not be the player that will burden the scoring load this year, his height will definitely be an asset because the second-tallest player on the team returning was rising senior Drew Crawford at 6-5.
Ajou will join freshmen Kale Abrahamson, Alex Olah, and Sanjay Lumpkin in the 2012 class, all possessing good size and rebounding prowess.
The Wildcats return seven starters, and in addition to the four freshmen coming in, head coach Bill Carmody brings in Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (eligible to play immediately as a postgrad senior), and TCU transfer Nikola Cerina, another legitimate rebounding threat.
The incoming size will address the biggest problem for Northwestern last year, their rebounding. It is always difficult to rebound out of a base zone defense, and the 1-3-1 zone that Coach Carmody employs can be particularly hard to crash the boards in, but ranking 319th and 327th in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage out of 345 NCAA teams (according to KenPom.com) is never good enough.
This is likely a make-or-break year for Coach Carmody at Northwestern. He has brought expectations in Evanston to new heights, and while a lot of that hype can be attributed to the fantastic play of recent graduate John Shurna, the fans are going to expect another step up from the NIT berth received last season.
Northwestern fans are hoping that perhaps Chier Ajou might be one of the final pieces in landing the NCAA Tournament berth that has eluded them for so long.